We all recognize the importance of being able to start fresh; to be born into a new year, situation or experience. The fresh calendar year presents us with the opportunity to reflect on our lives, and to begin the new year with a focus on creating conditions that will support and nourish us.

While it's easy to focus on our physical bodies or our income, more often than not, what brings us real joy is our spiritual life and the peace it brings to our mental and emotional states. We can use the New Year to make a commitment to our personal practice, or we can consider a further step: diksha. This is a Sanskrit term for an initiation into a new religious order or path, which is a wonderful way to begin again. Unlike New Year’s resolutions, which we set and maintain (or don’t) on our own, an initiation into our new path is blessed by our spiritual teacher. Such grace gives us a point to return to when we need encouragement at any time throughout the year.

It took me more than 20 years to decide to participate in a diksha. While it is a significant decision, if you've been contemplating it, I suggest you not wait as long as I did. My heart had already made the decision, and the path was more difficult without the blessing and support of a teacher. So, here is more information about diksha ceremonies plus three other ways you can experience a sense of renewal in less formal ways.

The Ancient Diksha Ceremony

During the diksha ceremony, a guru, spiritual teacher or lineage holder initiates a practitioner into a specific practice or religious order. Such rites of passage are a form of rebirth, a destruction of what is old and the creation of a fresh start. In some ceremonies, the guru even takes on the karma of the disciple.

(If you are Seeking Your Guru: A History of Gurus in the West + 6 Bits of Advice for the Seeker.)

The Purpose

Diksha marks the formal entry into a religious practice or order. Many different Indian religious orders perform initiations, including Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Examples of similar practices in Western religions include baptism in Christianity and shahada in Islam. In Indian religions, the demarcation between the old life and the new life is often so strong as to merit the giving of a new name, which helps the aspirant to recognize his/her true, spiritual nature.

What all these different religious orders have in common is the ceremonial marking of a new beginning. Often diksha authorizes the disciple to take part in practices that are restricted to initiates, and sometimes requires that the new initiate observe special rules such as refraining from lying, stealing or harming.

Mantra Diksha

In mantra diksha, the new initiate's teacher selects a secret mantra for him/her. The guru then transmits that mantra and the permission to practice it to the initiate. The power of the mantra comes from the energy transmitted from the guru to the student, which the student then nurtures by reciting the mantra. There are many variations of the ceremony. Some involve initiation in groups, and others are performed individually. Frequently, offerings of fire, water, incense and flowers are also made.

The guru often gives the student the sacred gift of a mala for the recitation of their mantra as a physical manifestation of the sacred, subtle gift of initiation. Charged with guru’s grace, the mala is to be cared for as a sacred object. It should remain in a dedicated practice space and, like the mantra itself, be kept private.

(Learn more about the use of malas in Meditating With Mala Beads.)

Your New Name

The student might also be given a sacred name, sometimes in a subsequent initiation. An inner name helps the student connect with his/her true nature, rather than the external world with which the student has identified with thus far.

The New Year as an Opportunity for Renewal and Rebirth

If you're not quite ready to participate in your own diksha ceremony, here are three other ways you can develop a deeper connection to the sense of renewal that the New Year uniquely offers.

Nourish Your Experience of Community

If you wish to enact a change -- such as eating differently, meditating daily or taking regular walks in nature -- find someone to do it with you. Maintain a commitment both to yourself and to one another.

Create a Space That Supports You

Allow yourself to let go of things you don’t need or that don’t support contentment. Sometimes we become accustomed to things as they are, and we begin to accept circumstances that bother us. The cumulative effect of many small dissatisfactions can leave us feeling stuck. To invite the renewal of the new year, see your space with fresh eyes, and let go of things that don’t have a place in the home you wish to live in.

That old pot holder that makes your cringe a bit each time you reach for it? This is a good time to pass it on. You might choose one room in your house or one category of objects, such as clothing, and ask yourself: Does this bath towel support my contentment? It might sound silly at first, but the way we relate to our living space is a reflection of how we relate to ourselves. Grant yourself permission to let go of things you don’t need.

(More on this practice in Grounding Into Your Seasonal Space: Tips on How From Your Favorite Yoginis.)

Nurture a Seedling

To watch a plant grow from seed is one of life’s greatest blessings. Think of a plant you’d like to have in your home, such as a culinary or medicinal herb, a bonsai tree or, if low maintenance is better, a cactus or succulent. Learn what the plant needs to flourish and create that environment. Nature is the highest expert at renewal and by cultivating a new life in your window ledge, you bring the power to begin again into your home.

Anew Again

Whether it's a new project, the formal beginning of a spiritual path or a significant lifestyle change, the New Year offers us the chance to make choices that bring about our desired circumstances. Every year I savor this time of introspection and reflection. I hope you do, too.

(Read on in A Year End Self-Reflection of One Yogini's Yoga Journey.)